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Alibaba Seeks to Raise Up to $15 Billion in Hong Kong Share Sale

Lulu Yilun Chen, Carol Zhong and Manuel Baigorri

(Bloomberg) -- Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is moving ahead with plans to raise as much as $15 billion in a Hong Kong share sale, people with knowledge of the matter said, a major win for a city rocked by months of civil unrest.

Asia’s largest company by market value is now preparing for a listing hearing as mandated by companies that debut on the Hong Kong bourse early next week, the people said, requesting not to be named discussing a private matter. The company declined to comment in an email.

Alibaba’s share sale, which could be the largest globally this year, will be a triumph for a Hong Kong stock exchange that lost many of China’s brightest technology stars to U.S. rivals. The Chinese e-commerce giant had aimed to list as early as over the summer before pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub, while trade tensions between Washington and Beijing clouded the market’s outlook. On Thursday, the U.S. and China agreed to roll back tariffs on each other’s goods in phases as they work toward a deal.

“They probably want to minimize the risk from a U.S. trade war,” said Danny Law, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Guotai Junan International Holdings Ltd. “It makes a lot of sense.”

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Hong Kong’s stock exchange, which reported its worst slide in profit in almost three years, could face pressure from local protesters pushing back on influence from mainland China. Demonstrations are expected to escalate over the weekend as the death of a student inflames rioters who are calling for “flash-mob”-style rallies.

Yet listing closer to home has been a long-time dream of billionaire Jack Ma -- a move that curries favor with Beijing and hedges against trade war risks. A successful Hong Kong share sale could also help finance a costly war of subsidies with Meituan Dianping in food delivery and travel, and divert investor cash from rivals like Meituan and WeChat-operator Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Alibaba could put the capital to work investing in new technologies such as artificial intelligence or fast-expanding affiliates such as Ant Financial. Courting investors closer to home also serves as a buffer of sorts should U.S.-Chinese tensions worsen. Already, U.S. lawmakers such as Senator Marco Rubio are agitating for measures to curb investment flows to Chinese companies, including the extreme option of tossing U.S.-listed firms off American bourses.

Alibaba -- which had roughly $57 billion of cash and equivalents as of September -- rode a national e-commerce boom that stemmed from an increasingly affluent middle class. But like arch-foe Tencent, it’s struggling to sustain growth as the world’s No. 2 economy slows, and China clashes with the U.S. over everything from trade and technology to investment.

At home, signs of strain are growing. China’s gross domestic product growth is expected to slump below 6%, which would be the economy’s slowest pace of expansion in three decades. Still, Alibaba last week reported a 40% surge in quarterly revenue, underscoring the resilience of consumer spending. The company on Monday will wrap up its most important sales event of the year -- Singles’ Day -- offering further clues on the health of consumption.

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(Updates with analyst’s comment in the fourth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Lulu Yilun Chen in Hong Kong at ychen447@bloomberg.net;Carol Zhong in Hong Kong at yzhong71@bloomberg.net;Manuel Baigorri in Hong Kong at mbaigorri@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net, ;Tracy Alloway at talloway@bloomberg.net, Edwin Chan, Philip Lagerkranser

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